The Best TV Shows of 2010

by PopMatters Staff

11 January 2011

 


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Rubicon

Cast: Miranda Richardson, James Badge Dale, Arliss Howard

(AMC)

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Rubicon
AMC


Rubicon is a throwback to a simpler time for conspiracy theories. Or so it seems. AMC’s new series is set in the present, but its heart is in the ‘70s, having more in common with the political paranoia of Three Days of the Condor than The X-Files or Lost. The conspiracy here is grounded in human activity and ambition, rather than aliens or supernatural forces. Like so many Cold War era thrillers, Rubicon opens with a suicide. As Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson) plays outside with her children, her husband (Harris Yulin) shoots himself in the study of his mansion, where the décor is ornate but hardly warm. The gunshot is heard, but not seen; the shock is delivered in Katherine’s face rather than a gory corpse. This, along with a credits sequence over crossword puzzles and numbers, is an early sign of Rubicon‘s emphasis on enigmas and ideas rather than visceral effects. These mysteries are presented and potentially solved by decidedly unusual characters, introduced in their workplace, the innocuously named American Policy Institute. Rubicon draws attention to the actual labor of intelligence workers. It also suggests that the staff at API is particularly adept at spotting patterns and codes. API means to catch what no one else sees in the most mundane sources. But its members are also a collection of misfits and neurotics, displaying personality traits that make them basically unfit for social situations, but perfect for solving puzzles.  Michael Landweber

 

 


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Louie

Cast: Louis C.K., Nick DiPaolo, Todd Barry, Jim Norton, Robert Kelly, Rick Crom, Eddie Brill, Ted Alexandro, Chelsea Peretti

(FX)

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Louie
FX


Most standup comedians aim to saturate their routines with the most laughs possible, maximizing the amount of enjoyment that can be had at a night out on the town. Louis C.K.‘s standup isn’t much different than this; he packs in the side-splitting, admission-fee-compensating laughs and makes them count. It’s to his infinite credit though that his show for FX, though largely composed like a standup comedy sketch, contains large stretches of unfunny material. It’s not that Louie‘s dour material didn’t provide some of the most hilarious moments of 2010, but its nomadic fragments achieved something far better in its ability to find comedy in circumstance rather than invent narratives ripe for comedy. Whereas most comedic shows feature ensemble casts, Louie centers on its amiable protagonist as he wanders a broken planet alone, worried about aging, unable to relate to the strange messed up people around him, unlucky in love, in increasingly deteriorating health, and being mocked at every turn by hecklers, bullies, and a sadistic doctor played by Ricky Gervais. The show entitled “God”, which addressed an adolescent Louie’s religious confusion, was perhaps the most moving episode of television all year, whereas a sketch featuring Louie’s attempt to ask out a black cashier at the grocery store turned into a pivotal piece on race relations, with Louie’s fundamental misunderstanding underscoring the most succinct explanation for why the liberal fantasy of racial harmony is still a long way away. That the latter sketch appeared directly after a lewd bit involving a hallucinogenic trip to a perverted dentist shows how carefully Louie teeters between poignancy and vulgarity (this is the rare basic cable show to earn its TV-MA rating). Louie defies expectation at every turn, in exactly the way life does. Timh Gabriele

 

 


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Chuck

Cast: Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez, Ryan McPartlin, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Vik Sahay, Scott Krinsky

(NBC)

Review [24.Sep.2007]

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Chuck
NBC


Television experts obsess over ratings, with even minor drops raising warning bells about cancellation. What they sometimes miss is the effect a devoted audience can have on a series’ continued survival. Chuck is one of those rare wonderful shows with a limited, but very enthusiastic following. Still thriving in its fourth season, the spy romp balances ridiculous plots with strong relationships and lovable supporting players. Even characters with limited screen time like Big Mike, Jeff and Lester (Jeffster!), the General, and Awesome deliver great crowd-pleasing moments. This season’s main arc (the search for Chuck’s mom) has been sort of a dud, but inspired guest stars and the continued fine work of the lead actors makes each story fun. Timothy Dalton was a highlight as a bumbling CIA handler who turned out to be a scenery-chewing psychopath. Chuck has also found a way to avoid the trap of lost tension when its leads become a full-time couple. Chuck and Sarah might be together for good, but they still have issues to work out while jetting across the globe. “Chuck Versus the Other Guy”, where their relationship officially begins, is one of the most rewarding TV episodes of 2010.  Dan Heaton

 

 


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How I Met Your Mother

Cast: Josh Radnor, Alyson Hannigan, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris

(CBS)

Review [3.Oct.2005]

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How I Met Your Mother
CBS


At it’s best, How I Met Your Mother is one of the most intelligently written shows on TV, and has the most intricate and innovative narrative constructions of any sitcom since Arrested Development.  Even at its worst, the show still functions as a solid romantic comedy, following hopeless romantic Ted Mosby’s (Josh Radnor) quest for true love.  A tight-knit core of friends, including Jason Segal, Alyson Hannigan, Cobie Smulders, and Neil Patrick Harris, accompanies Ted on his journey through New York’s dating scene. Season five of How I Met Your Mother is admittedly the weakest, straying from the continuing story lines that form the emotional core of the show.  Still, there are still some great standalone episodes, like “Girls Vs. Suits” and “Perfect Week”, that hold up to the standard set by earlier seasons.  Thus far, season six has picked up the pace nicely, and the show has returned to form. Brent McKnight

 

 


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Caprica

Cast: Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales, Paula Malcomson, Alessandra Torresani, Magda Apanowicz, Sasha Roiz, Polly Walker

(SyFy Channel)

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Caprica
SyFy Channel


If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, Caprica, the now-canceled Battlestar Galactica prequel, proves that the road to immortality is paved, simply, with misplaced trust. We all know that the story ends with the near-genocide of the human race. Seeing how it gets there, well…that’s part of what made Caprica so fascinating. The cast, anchored by the Emmy-worthy Eric Stoltz as Dr. Daniel Graystone, is full of inherently fascinating people making poor decisions, unfortunate allegiances and biting off more than they can chew. Of course, as in the great tragedies, plagues will sweep onto all their houses, setting off acts of vengeance, sparking further violence, and so on until the end of time. Never has “All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again” been such an apt phrase to describe the flaws of humanity—and the basic tenants of a great television drama Kevin Brettauer

 

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